Social Issues

Daughter looks back on Roe v. Wade plaintiff’s turbulent life

By Lucia Leal

Washington, Jun 24 (EFE).- Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, lived a momentous life that saw her not only playing an instrumental role in establishing federal abortion rights in the United States but also switching sides and becoming involved in the pro-life movement, her oldest daughter recalled in an interview with Efe.

The story is further complicated by McCorvey’s assertion – captured in the 2020 TV documentary “AKA Jane Roe” – that she never supported the anti-abortion movement and only took part in pro-life activism for the money.

“She gave up a lot to fight for women’s rights and help women,” Melissa Mills said of her mother Norma McCorvey (1947-2017), better known by the pseudonym “Jane Roe,” in a video interview with Efe from her home in Katy, Texas.

Mills added that her mother, who died five years ago in that same town, would have been “devastated” to have lived to see the Supreme Court overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling in a 5-4 decision on Friday.

Norma Leah Nelson – McCorvey’s maiden name – was born in 1947 into a poor family in rural Louisiana and endured a turbulent childhood.

Her mother was an alcoholic who mistreated her, while her father abandoned their home when she was a very young girl – a life of “pain and rage” that McCorvey described in her 1994 autobiography “I Am Roe.”

She was just 15 when she married Mills’ father, a man named Woody McCorvey who beat her when he found out that she was pregnant. McCorvey fled to her mother’s home and confessed that, even though she had slept with a man, she was a lesbian.

Mills, who was born in 1962, ended up in the custody of her grandmother, while the future “Jane Roe” became caught up in a life of drugs and alcohol.

McCorvey’s daughter said her mother would come in and out of her life and seemed more like a sister than a mother, since she only appeared at family events like birthday parties.

During one of those gatherings, someone told Mills for the first time that her mother was “Jane Roe,” but she told Efe it took her several years to understand what that meant.

Mills was the only one of McCorvey’s three daughters who really knew her mother. In 1967, Norma had a second daughter, Jennifer, whom she gave up for adoption; then in 1969, she became pregnant with the “Roe baby.”

McCorvey did not want to have the child. Even though abortion was illegal in Texas at that time, she tried unsuccessfully to convince her gynecologist to perform the procedure.

She then went to a clandestine clinic that recently had been raided by police.

McCorvey finally was referred to a pair of attorneys – Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington – who litigated her case all the way to the Supreme Court, which issued the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973.

Decades later, McCorvey said in an interview that she had been treated like a pawn, adding that she had wanted to have an abortion but the litigation went on for so long that she had to give birth to her third daughter – Shelly Lynn Thornton, whom she also gave up for adoption.

But in 1995, an evangelical minister who took up residence near the abortion clinic where McCorvey was working convinced her to join the pro-life Operation Rescue organization, which was known for harassing doctors who performed that procedure.

Toward the end of her life, McCorvey said in the documentary “AKA Jane Roe” that her pro-life activism was “all an act.” “I took their money and they’d put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say.”

Mills, however, said her mother’s pro-life conversion had been genuine and that her so-called “deathbed confession” in that documentary was a product of her resentment toward that movement.

“When she got really sick, they didn’t come around and that really hurt her feelings. They didn’t really need her anymore. They already had her and they couldn’t get anything else out of her, so she felt like she was just put up upon a shelf,” the woman told Efe.

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